Beyond Basics: A Guide for New Drivers

By Matthew Guy

For many new drivers, that driver’s license is a ticket to freedom and an invitation to enjoy the open road. But the complex ins and outs of a vehicle may be intimidating, and understandably so. Here’s some foundational knowledge to help new drivers build confidence on the road.

Tire’d and True

Those four tires are the only part of your car in direct contact with the road. Making certain they’re in top shape—and as high-quality as you can afford—should be a priority. Watch for damage caused by road hazards and make sure they’re inflated to the recommended tire pressure—psi (pound per square inch). Keep an eye on the treads for any odd wear pattern, which could reduce traction and indicate an alignment problem. Plan to install winter tires well before the first snowfall.

Fluid Situation

The fluids are the lifeblood of your vehicle. The engine oil, transmission fluid and coolant are vital for your car to function properly, so drivers need to be familiar with key components under the hood. These include the filler cap and dipstick for engine oil and transmission fluid, as well as the coolant and windshield wiper fluid reservoirs. Find out where the battery is located and check it for signs of corrosion or bulging, especially if it’s more than three years old. Know how to read an engine oil dipstick or, at least, learn how to interpret dashboard indicators. And get into the habit of checking underneath your vehicle for any sign of leaking.

Leading Indicators

A car’s dashboard is home to a host of crucial information. Some warning lights illuminate in yellow or amber as reminders to keep an eye out for certain issues. Make note of these and let your mechanic know at a future service appointment. Other alerts, which may light up in red, are critical indicators of potentially serious problems—peruse the owner’s manual for clarification. There are apps now that help identify warning lights simply by pointing your smartphone’s camera in their direction. Many vehicles are now also equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system—the typic TPMS image on a dashboard is a yellow tire-like icon with an exclamation point.

Basic Maintenance

Replacing windshield wipers on a car is a relatively simple task. The counter assistant at your local parts store may even offer to do it—watch closely and pick up a useful skill. Remember to check the owner’s manual and follow the recommended service schedule. Rely on your mechanic for oil changes and maintenance checks—and for seasonal tire swaps, you can book Mobile Tire Change Service through AMA.